Former Essence Editor Launches Beauty Business Camp, Aims to Foster Diversity Within Industry

If you're interested in pursuing fashion as a career, there are tons of resources out there for you, like fashion camps and conferences, not to mention the proliferation of reality TV shows which depict (somewhat unrealistically) aspects of the industry. But the beauty industry is a bit more under the radar. (Why aren't there any shows requiring contestants to make beauty products out of common grocery store items?) Now, one connected and experienced former beauty editor, Corynne Corbett, is trying to change all that with her new venture, Beauty Biz Camp, a non-profit program that teaches adolescents about the ins and outs of the beauty industry.
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If you're interested in pursuing fashion as a career, there are tons of resources out there for you, like fashion camps and conferences, not to mention the proliferation of reality TV shows which depict (somewhat unrealistically) aspects of the industry. But the beauty industry is a bit more under the radar. (Why aren't there any shows requiring contestants to make beauty products out of common grocery store items?) Now, one connected and experienced former beauty editor, Corynne Corbett, is trying to change all that with her new venture, Beauty Biz Camp, a non-profit program that teaches adolescents about the ins and outs of the beauty industry.
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If you're interested in pursuing fashion as a career, there are tons of resources out there for you, like fashion camps and conferences, not to mention the proliferation of reality TV shows which depict (somewhat unrealistically) aspects of the industry. But the beauty industry is a bit more under the radar. (Why aren't there any shows requiring contestants to make beauty products out of common grocery store items?) Now, one connected and experienced former beauty editor, Corynne Corbett, is trying to change all that with her new venture, Beauty Biz Camp, a non-profit program that teaches adolescents about the ins and outs of the beauty industry.

Corbett has done three tours of duty as a beauty editor: First at Elle, then at Real Simple (where she was also an executive editor before being laid off in 2008), and most recently at Essence. She has also done some behind-the-scenes work naming products, writing package copy, and helping with brand positioning. So she definitely knows the inner workings of the industry.

Beauty Biz Camp will take place over three weeks in New York City (from July 22 through August 9) and will cover a huge range of topics including, product development, e-commerce, PR, and the more "glam" aspects of the industry like developing beauty trends and going behind-the-scenes at a fashion show. Corbett has speakers like Lisa Price (the founder of Carol's Daughter), Yesenia Almonte (Seventeen's beauty director), and Patricia Reynoso (editor in chief of Glam Belleza Latina) lined up as instructors. Dr. Asiah Mason, a specialist in adolescent psychology and education for underserved adolescents, serves as the camp director.

Encouraging racial diversity within the beauty industry is an important goal for the camp. According to the organization's About Us page, their vision is to "make the beauty industry a more accurate reflection of the people it serves, by cultivating and equipping the next generation of beauty leaders who drive innovation, image and conversation, and serve the needs of every consumer."

Weekly sessions cost $1,000 each, though Corbett is also offering at least 10 scholarships.

We caught up with Corbett for her take on getting teens interested in beauty as a career, why she chose this as the next step in her own career, and her thoughts on diversity (or lack thereof) in the beauty industry.

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Fashionista: How did you come up with the idea for Beauty Biz Camp? Corynne Corbett: I have always had a passion for mentoring people. I have a long list of mentees that are placed all over the industry who are doing quite well. I wanted to think of how to formalize it. One of the reasons I thought I should start with teenagers was because I thought, "What would have happened if I had known as a teenager that this industry existed?" I knew about beauty--my grandmother was a hair stylist--so I knew that part of the business. I knew that you could sell makeup at a counter, but that’s all I knew. But that I could be a decision-maker or create a product? That's something I didn’t know, and most young women don’t know that.

So will mentoring and Beauty Biz Camp be your full time gig now? Yes, I’m going to do this and expand in areas like this. I’ll do summer sessions for the camp and I’ll do something during the year as well. I’m going to do programs with college students, too--I’m starting an internship program [a for-profit business called the Beauty Swirl] to help them get the right internships. It exists in fashion but not beauty. The power is in having a seat at the table.

Tell me about the curriculum. At first I was going to repeat the same session but then I wanted to make sure we had a whole week to devote to the more "glam" aspect of the industry--and for them to understand where a trend comes from and the life cycle of a trend. Anytime we bring a young person to a photo shoot and they see how it works, their eyes light up. For them to understand that and to stretch that out into a week became important. They'll now be exploring those topics during week three. I also really wanted to take them behind the scenes. So the first week is behind the scenes of different beauty categories and positions. The second week is about [helping girls] see how cool it is to use science to do great things. It’s not about being a nerd or a geek, but being smart is cool. [note: You can see the full curriculum here.]

How are you recruiting girls for the camp? It’s open to everyone, but I’m definitely looking at a multi-cultural group. We recruited through community organizations, churches, and some schools, and a lot of word-of-mouth. I have a few people who work on community outreach with me--that's the scholarship part. [Note: There are still some scholarships available. Go here for information.]

Speaking of multi-cultural groups, what are your thoughts about diversity in the beauty industry? I think the beauty industry is challenged because there is not enough representation at the [decision-making] table. Instead of complaining about it, I need people to do something about it. They say we can’t find the people [to fill those jobs], so then let’s equip people to do the jobs.

Beauty brands seem to be getting better about offering a larger variety of colors and formulations for multiple skin tones, but where does the industry need to focus in this regard? It has definitely gotten better, but I’ve been to countless events where there is nothing for me. I’m talking about in 2013! There is still a ways to go. Sometimes [brands] don’t quite understand how the needs of women of color are different. If you talk about anti aging for example, it’s not that we don’t age--we just age differently. When there’s someone in the room who can explain that, it’s helpful. [laughs] I definitely have no problem saying something anytime it comes up!

What's the takeaway that you want the girls to go home with after camp? I love beauty and I’m really glad that I’ve found a way to use my talent differently. As publishing and all these things change, people should start thinking about what kind of legacy they want to leave. What do you want to be known for? And is it different from what someone else is doing? What I love about beauty is it’s so collegial across the board. I thought I was going to be a fashion editor when I went to school but I’ve never regretted a day in the beauty industry. This might not be the career for the [girls who come to camp], but the whole notion of being beautiful for themselves and to understand they have power by saying what [they think] is beautiful, is important.